11 December 2014
Art & Literature
The body of written works produced by Belgians and written in Flemish, which is equivalent to the Standard Dutch language of the Netherlands, and in Standard French, which are the two main divisions of literature by language of Belgium. A lesserknown literature of
Belgium, Walloon literature, is written in local dialects of French and Latin origin that are spoken in Wallonia.Flemish literature is often discussed with Dutch literature and Belgium’s
Frenchlanguage literature with other French literature. The French, Flemish, and
Walloonlanguage literatures of Belgium are discussed in this article.
Any consideration of the Dutchlanguage literature of Belgium must take into account that the Belgian territories were broadly united with the Netherlands politically, economically, and culturally until 1579, when, as a result of the Reformation, the northern provinces seceded from the Roman Catholic south. Thus until the early 17th century the literature of
Flanders and Holland must be considered as a whole. It was in Flanders that the literature of the medieval Low Countries flowered most profusely. It was, moreover, in Flanders and
Brabant that learning showed new vigour under the influence of the Renaissance and the
Reformation. In literature inspired by the Reformation the tone was set by the glowing satiric verse of the Catholic Anna Bijns and the polemical satire, Biencorf der H. Roomsche Kercke, of the Calvinist Philips van Marnix, heer van Sint Aldegonde. The Renaissance in the
Netherlands began with Lucas de Heere, Carel van Mander, and Jan Baptista van der Noot, all of whom, significantly, had fled from the south for religious reasons.
Many left the south before 1579 as a result of the regional religious and political troubles, and the budding literary revival in Flanders and Brabant was interrupted. Whereas
Holland was approaching its golden age, in the south a decline set in. But Justus de
Harduwijn, a lyrical poet in the Classical style of the French Pléiade; Richard Verstegen, a polemicist; Adriaen Poirters, a popular moralist; the dramatists Willem Ogier and Cornelis de
Bie; and, especially, Michiel de Swaen, the last important Baroque poet and playwright, who was deeply inspired by his religion, compare favourably with most writers of their time. The decline was most noticeable in the early 18th century, when the aristocracy and intellectual elite came increasingly under French influence.
Before the end of the 18th century, however, Willem Verhoeven and Jan Baptist
Verlooy had started a reaction against this French influence. Like contemporary historical and scientific writers they reverted to the work of the 16thcentury humanists but neglected the medieval masterpieces. Revival was helped by the rederijkers, who continued, more or less successfully, to use Dutch, not French. Karel Broeckaert wrote dialogues modeled on Joseph
Addison’s Spectator essays in a spirit of rational liberalism, creating a literary figure,
“Gysken,” the ironic representative of the ancien régime; he also wrote the first Flemish prose story, Jellen en Mietje . The poet Pieter Joost de Borchgrave embodied the transition from
Classicism to Romanticism, and Jan Baptist Hofman, a prolific playwright, introduced middleclass sentimental tragedy, or drame bourgeois. The writers grouped around Van Nu en Straks helped to bring about a revival and…